Hello all!

Today I’m going to write about the P, S, A, and M (P, Tv, Av, M on some cameras) modes that most enthusiast (or higher) cameras are equipped with. These are essentially either semi-automatic or fully manual settings which allow the camera’s user to set either some or all aspects of what the camera is doing.


P Mode (Program)

First we’ll talk about P mode which is program mode.  This mode is basically automatic in that the camera calculates what it thinks should give you a decent exposure. On some cameras, you can use your camera’s primary setting dial to adjust this value towards higher speed or greater depth of field, but for the most part it’s still automatically calculating the exposure for you. The only real control P mode gives you is the ability to adjust your ISO, exposure compensation, and whether you use flash or not.

Rensuchan uses this mode 0% of the time.

Why? The main reason I don’t ever use this mode is because I might as well have my camera on Auto. I don’t really feel like P adds anything over just letting your camera handle everything. If I’m handing my D810 to someone that never takes pictures I might throw it on P for them since it doesn’t have an auto mode, but with my D600 or any other body that has auto, I’ll just select that for an inexperienced photographer. If you do own a camera though, P mode is the first step towards beginning to truly control your exposure. When I first started though I pretty much skipped over this mode and went straight for A (Av).


S (Tv) Mode (Shutter Priority)

On to S (Tv) mode! This is the mode that lets you select the shutter speed you want and then lets the camera meter and calculate the rest of what it needs to in order to give you that shutter speed. This can be useful if you are in a situation in which you either want to induce, or prevent blur. If you want to blur a waterfall, or something moving, then S mode is your friend to make sure your shutter speed is slow enough. On the reverse, if you have energetic kids running around nonstop, you can use S mode to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to stop their action.

Rensuchan uses this mode 5% of the time.

Why? It’s mainly reserved for situations when the light is changing and I want to be sure that I stop motion. For times where I want slower shutter speeds… well we’ll get to that.


A (Av) Mode (Aperture Priority)

Aperture priority works like Shutter priority in that it lets you change one setting and has the camera calculate the rest. In this case, you can use dials to change the aperture value. This can be very useful if you’re in an event like situation and want to change your depth of field on the fly. Maybe you have one person and you want to shoot at f/1.8 to isolate them from the surroundings but a few minutes later you have a group of five and want to make sure they are all in focus so you need to quickly change to f/8. Aperture priority allows quick adjustment of your depth of field as well as how much light is coming into your camera so it’s very useful for changing light conditions and changing photo conditions.

Rensuchan uses this mode 80% of the time.

Why? The situation described above is pretty much a description of photographing anime conventions. You’re moving indoor / outdoor, photographing individuals and groups, and things are changing all the time. This is by far the most useful semi-automatic mode to me because of how I photograph. Making sure people are in focus is important for me, and subject isolation with shallow depth of field is very much a signature of my style with individual portraits. I’ll also use A mode for slower shutter speeds because I can achieve that by closing the lens to it’s minimum aperture easily (be sure to disable auto ISO for this point).


M Mode (Manual)

Finally we’re to Manual. This is the mode in which you set everything yourself (unless you’re on auto ISO). You have control of the shutter speed and aperture so you can fine time settings if your camera’s metering is not cooperating with your style, or if you just want to do everything yourself from the start. Since you have ultimate control in this mode, there’s nothing you really can’t do with it, but in changing conditions it could slow down the process of simply getting photos since you’ll have to make constant adjustments.

Rensuchan uses this mode 15% of the time.

Why? Normally I reserve this mode for private shoots. When I’m just walking around taking shots I don’t have time to fiddle with manual mode because it makes the process of getting photos slower plus things change very quickly. When I’m doing private shoots though, normally we’re not moving around so I can fine tune how I want the exposure to look and work from there. Manual is especially useful to me when working with off camera flash so the camera doesn’t try to factor the flash firing into it’s exposure calculations.


Bonus Option: M with Auto ISO

I’ve recently been experimenting with this a lot more often since high ISOs are good looking with full frame cameras. I use manual mode to set the Aperture and Shutter speed I want, then let the camera automatically vary the ISO in order to hit those targets. This will make sure the camera wont dip below the shutter speed I need for a sharp shot while on auto ISO. Also, while using off camera flash, sometimes I want to make sure my camera doesn’t exceed the 1/250 shutter speed (max sync speed) I need to keep the full power of my speedlights without it going to high speed sync mode.


A quick note on auto ISO

You notice Auto ISO mentioned a lot on this. Auto ISO is a convenience feature that lets you select a minimum and maximum ISO and have the camera automatically select the ISO to keep your shutter / aperture / exposure consistent. With recent Nikon bodies, it’s even smart enough to base the minimum shutter speed before boosting ISO on the lens you have on your camera by following the 1/focal length rule (If you’re using a 50mm lens, you want your exposure time to be at the lowest 1/50 sec). Older bodies and other systems may not necessarily have that option unfortunately but auto ISO generally does more good than bad.

Rensuchan uses auto ISO around 90% of the time.

Why? Because I like convenience features that make it quicker and easier to take photographs. If I don’t like what the camera is doing automatically, it’s easy to just press a button, click a dial, and turn auto ISO off. The main time I disable it is when working with off camera flash in a situation where my lighting isn’t going to change much.


What does Rensuchan recommend?

I generally recommend whatever works for you! Seriously, I am not a photographer that’s going to nitpick at someone using a different mode because what matters most is the end product.

That being said, I do suggest that every aspiring photographer learns what shutter speed, aperture, and ISO control and how they interact with each other. I primarily use the semi-automatic Aperture Priority mode, but if the camera is doing something I don’t like, I know how to go into Manual with the exposure I get with Aperture Priority and fine-tune it to get the desired result. I think it’s important to be able to at least do that in a pinch before relying on automatic modes.


Camera Modes: What I Use and Why | 2014 | Photography | Tags: , , , , | Comments (0)

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